Olive oil is one of the simplest, most natural and healthy foods you can get. Its culinary uses are almost limitless.
Ancient philosophers have written about it, emperors have gorged themselves on it and olive farmers still make it from thousand-year-old trees!
You will not get many tapas recipes that aren’t either cooked with, dressed with or liberally smothered in olive oil.
There is an oil for every use and palette, from mild and fruity to strong and peppery.
One of the simplest (and one of my favourite) ways to enjoy a good, strong-flavoured extra-virgin olive oil is to simply pour it onto a plate, sprinkle some salt on it and then mop it up with some fresh, crusty bread.
Or you could use toast rubbed with a cut clove of garlic. This is a mid-morning snack which many locals here have with their coffee. Either way, the taste is sensational!
Extra Virgin Oil - this is the highest grade oil. It is very low in acidity (below 1%) and comes from the first cold pressing of the choicest, handpicked olives. They are pressed mechanically without any heat or chemicals. Extra virgin oil has natural antioxidants which keep it from going rancid.
You can be sure that if the label says ‘first cold pressing’, you have a 100% extra virgin oil with no processing or heat treatments.
Virgin Oil - the next in quality, this has slightly more acidity. This is still cold pressed but it may be from a second or third pressing of the pulp, after the top-grade oil has been extracted on the first pressing. Or it could be extracted from olives that are not necessarily the best of the top grade, or have been stored a little longer. Virgin and extra virgin are the only genuinely ‘cold pressed’ olive oils.
‘Pure’ Oil - this is sometimes known as commercial grade oil. It is extracted from pulp left after the second pressing of lower quality olives. It is ‘refined’ using heat, high pressure and solvents. During this process, a lot of the natural flavour of the olive is lost so they blend it with some higher quality virgin oil to give it some taste. It’s a good, no-nonsense oil for cooking but, where the flavour of the oil is an important part of a recipe, use a better quality oil.
And if you want an oil for salad dressings (or for bread-dipping!) only an extra-virgin will do!
The ancient history and traditions and flavour of olive oil give it a very special place in world cuisine. Whenever I use it I appreciate all the more the unique privileges we are sharing with generations before us.